Firing Tom Cable and promoting Hue Jackson to head coach was the smartest move Al Davis has made since he hired Jon Gruden, and the Raiders are reaping the benefits now.
Cable was a buffoon. At postgame media sessions after losses, he was at a complete loss to explain why the Raiders were still making mistakes, especially with penalties. He’d make promises to change the pattern, but they were meaningless because he had no real plan.
Jackson pinpoints specific problems and shows his players how to solve them. In Sunday’s impressive 34-24 win over the New York Jets, the Raiders had seven penalties for 55 yards, the Jets seven for 61.
Although some looking at the Raiders gave Cable credit last year for the first nonlosing season since 2002, it was really Jackson’s re-working of the Raiders’ offense that made the difference. He’s still heavily involved, working with offensive coordinator Al Saunders. (For those who like trivia, Jackson and Saunders are both former Cal offensive coordinators.)
The first job of an offensive coordinator is to identify the playmakers and find a way to make the best use of them.
Darren McFadden’s talents had been largely wasted because Cable used him as a traditional running back, running inside most of the time. Jackson found ways to get McFadden in space, running outside, either on runs or swing passes, so he can use his great open-field talents.
McFadden’s running was the key to the season-opening win in Denver and again against the Jets, as he ran for 171 yards on 19 carries, 70 of those on an electrifying touchdown run just before the half that got the Raiders back into the game at 17-14.
Jackson also has a settled quarterback situation for the first time since Rich Gannon took the team to the Super Bowl in the 2002 season. He has Jason Campbell playing under control, scrambling for yardage when he’s pressured and not forcing throws.
With the run offense going so well, Campbell can make use of the play-action pass to slow down rushers. He’s not often called upon to make the big play, but he can when he has to.
Late in the fourth quarter Sunday, when the Raiders were leading by just a touchdown, Campbell hit Michael Bush down the left sideline with a perfect throw, floating it right over a Jets defender. The 28-yard gain got the Raiders close enough for Sebastian Janikowski to hit a 49-yard field goal.
There were two other good signs in Sunday’s win. The first was that there was no hangover from what seemed to be a devastating loss to the Buffalo Bills the previous Sunday, when the Bills scored touchdowns on all five of their second-half possessions.
The other was that they did a better job of run defense, though long-time nemesis LaDainian Tomlinson got loose for a 20-yard burst as well as a 74-yard pass reception to set up a Jets TD. LT will probably be bedeviling the Raiders when he’s 65.
Overall, it was a very impressive win. Davis has never had much respect for coaches, but he can surely see the difference in results with Jackson.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.